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"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine"
-------Lord Byron (English poet, 1788-1824)-----
The International Olympic Committee appears ready to create the mood for inter-Korean reconciliation at next month's PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The IOC held a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday, inviting North and South Korean delegates and officials from the organizing committee.
They agreed that North Korea will send 67 people, including athletes and media representatives, to the Games.
22 North Korean athletes will take part in 10 events in 3 sports, including pair figure skating and women's ice hockey. South and North Korea will field a unified women's ice hockey team for the first time.
The IOC also decided to allow North and South Korean athletes in the same uniforms to march together at the opening ceremony behind a unification flag that features the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean sports minister Do Jong-hwan and his North Korean counterpart Kim Il Guk signed the agreement after the meeting. Reporters were invited to the scene.
But many people in South Korea disapprove of the unified women's ice hockey team. They say some South Korean athletes will become unable to compete in the Games as a result.
Russia's Far East and Siberia have seen near-record low temperatures amid a severe cold snap.
The mercury plunged below minus 50 degrees Celsius in some areas. That's more than 10 degrees lower than the average for this time of year.
Local media said the Sakha Republic in the Far East saw minus 65 degrees and that 2 men froze to death while walking on a road after abandoning a broken car.
In Yakutsk, a central city of the Sakha Republic, residents were seen walking with hats pulled down over their eyes.
Schools have been closed in some areas, and authorities are warning residents to stay indoors.
The region is known for cold weather. Oymyakon in the Sakha Republic recorded the lowest temperature on Earth, at minus 71.2 degrees.
The head of a prominent anti-nuclear group has called on Japan to join the treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said, "Japan is the only country to directly know the humanitarian, economic, and social costs of nuclear war."
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for its efforts to help get the treaty adopted. It had the support of more than 120 countries and territories.
But the nuclear powers are opposed to it. So is Japan, which relies on the American nuclear umbrella for protection.
Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs Masahisa Sato said, "Considering the severe security situation surrounding Japan, including threats from North Korea, it's essential to maintain the deterrence that the Japan-US alliance provides."
But some senior members of Japan's opposition parties are more open to discussing ICAN's position.
Tetsuro Fukuyama of the Constitutional Democratic Party said, "It would be good for Japan to study the effects that the nuclear weapons ban treaty may have. Our party plans to raise this issue at the Diet for discussion."
Fihn visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima before meeting with lawmakers in Tokyo.
She said she hopes there will be more debate on the treaty among the Japanese people.
Fihn said, "I've experienced that there's a large gap between the values represented in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the policy coming out of Tokyo.
We need action and leadership of this city and the world needs you, the citizens of this city and this country, to demand it."
The head of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, has met with anti-nuclear activists in Hiroshima.
ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn attended a meeting of about 150 people from the atomic-bombed city on Monday.
The event began with a speech by Haruko Moritaki, who co-heads a Hiroshima non-governmental organization.
She said she is counting on the youthful power of ICAN to spread around the world the voices of Hiroshima and the consequences of atomic bombing.
She said non-governmental groups in Hiroshima need to work together to urge Japan's government to join the UN nuclear ban treaty.
Fihn told the audience there is a "large gap" between what people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki believe, and Japanese government policy.
She said the threat of nuclear weapons would continue as long as Tokyo believes in nuclear deterrence.
She added citizens should unite to demand change.
A high school student also delivered a speech, stressing the need to create occasions to make the younger generations think about the nuclear ban treaty.
Moritaki said she wants young Japanese people to take hope and inspiration from ICAN and actively engage in its campaign.
Fihn's organization won last year's Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to the adoption of the nuclear ban treaty at the United Nations.
Japanese defense officials have identified a vessel spotted near the Senkaku Islands last week as China's new nuclear-powered attack submarine.
The sub was spotted last Thursday traveling underwater in the contiguous zone just outside Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea.
The defense ministry confirmed the vessel belonged to the Chinese Navy on Friday when it emerged in high seas raising a Chinese flag.
Japan controls the Senkaku Islands. The government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan's territory. China and Taiwan claim them.
Analysis of the shape and noise of the vessel by experts at the ministry show it is the new Shang-class attack submarine.
The sub is about 110 meters long and has an underwater displacement of 6,100 tons. It is faster and can travel further than conventional subs and is capable of carrying longer range cruise missiles.
Authorities in the US state of Hawaii have apologized for the false emergency alert on Saturday that warned of an imminent missile attack by North Korea. They say human error was to blame.
Hawaii Governor David Ige and Emergency Management Agency officials explained at a news conference that an agency employee pushed the wrong button during a shift change.
Ige apologized for the error, saying it affected many people. He said the state will take steps to ensure it will never happen again.
The warning was sent as a text message to mobile phones at 8:07 AM, local time.
It said: "Emergency alert ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."
It was retracted 38 minutes later, in a second message stating that there was no missile threat or danger and that the first message had been a false alarm.
The officials say the employee in question realized the mistake when he found the message on his own mobile phone.
Local media say the false alert set off widespread panic among tourists, as well as residents of the Pacific island state. Boarding procedures were suspended at the international airport in Honolulu.
Snow is continuing to fall on and off in areas of western to northern Japan.
The Meteorological Agency says some mountainous areas have received 30 to 50 centimeters of snowfall for the 24 hours until noon on Saturday.
As of 11 AM, the city of Ono, Fukui Prefecture, had 83 centimeters of accumulated snow, and Kitahiroshima, in Hiroshima Prefecture, had 128 centimeters.
The city of Niigata, facing the Sea of Japan, has had 8 times the average snowfall for this time of year.
More snow is forecast, particularly for areas along the Sea of Japan. Weather officials are warning of icy roads, avalanches and snow-related accidents.
Officials of Ishikawa Prefecture say a 91-year-old woman was found dead in a drainage channel on Friday. She is believed to have fallen while shoveling snow. The officials say 10 other people were injured while clearing snow.
Heavy snow in Niigata's Sanjo City also left a passenger train stranded for more than half a day on Thursday. About 430 people were trapped on board.
The operator, East Japan Railway Company, says it took more than 9 hours for a snowplow to arrive at the scene.
About 430 people on a crowded train in Niigata Prefecture, eastern Japan, have been stranded by heavy snowfall for more than 12 hours.
East Japan Railway Company says the 4-car local train is stuck at a crossing in the city of Sanjo on its Shinetsu Line. It was bound for Nagaoka from Niigata when it was forced to stop before 7 PM on Thursday.
Firefighting authorities say a man in his 40s complained of dehydration on Thursday night and was taken to hospital. Two other women passengers were also reportedly rescued.
The train's departure was delayed partly due to snow and this is believed to have added more passengers.
Many are standing in the train, which has lights, heaters and toilets. East Japan Railway says it delivered food and drinks to the passengers on Friday morning.
Some passengers were picked up by their families overnight.
The train operator has been trying to assess the situation at 3 stations on the same line where other trains are also reportedly stranded.
Two former Japanese prime ministers have jointly unveiled a plan for legislation to immediately scrap all nuclear power plants in the country, and to completely shift to renewable energy sources by 2050.
Former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa serve as advisors for a private group that advocates "zero nuclear plants" and promotes renewable energy.
The plan drawn up by the group says the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant exposed the risks of nuclear power generation, and the excessive burden placed on the public.
Koizumi told a news conference on Wednesday that it might not be possible to scrap nuclear plants under the current administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but that he is certain it will happen in the near future.
Koizumi said his group is willing to cooperate with any political party devoted to shutting down nuclear plants and promoting renewable energy. He said the public will become aware of the debate if it is discussed in the Diet.
Koizumi added he will call on parties to cooperate in filing such a bill for Diet deliberations.
Members of the group later met officials of political parties to explain their plan.
The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party outlined its own policy for coming up with a zero nuclear bill by the end of this month, and said it will take the group's ideas into consideration.
In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a separate news conference that the government will continue efforts to save energy, encourage the introduction of renewable energy as much as possible, and minimize the country's reliance on nuclear power.
He stressed that safety remains a priority, and that there is no change in the government's policy to put back online only reactors that have been confirmed safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, while gaining understanding of local communities.
Three yokozuna, or grand champion sumo wrestlers, have taken part in a ring-entering ceremony at a Shinto shrine in Tokyo to pray for safety and success at the sport's New Year tournament.
About 2,800 people went to Meiji Shrine to watch the annual event on Tuesday.
Hakuho, Kisenosato and Kakuryu performed related rituals in traditional style.
Hakuho later said he's bracing himself at the start of 2018. He added that he's training hard to set a new record of 41 tournament wins.
Kisenosato said he's focused on preparing well for the tournament. He was promoted to the top rank last year, but later withdrew from 4 tournaments in a row.
Kakuryu also pulled out of 4 straight tournaments last year. He said he wants to make his fans happy this year.
The sport's top referee, who usually leads yokozuna at the ceremony, did not appear, as he's now at the center of a sexual harassment scandal.
Yokozuna Harumafuji retired in November to take responsibility for an assault scandal involving a junior wrestler.
The New Year tournament opens at Tokyo's Kokugikan arena on Sunday.
The Washington Post has reported that US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is likely to seek an interview with President Donald Trump.
Mueller has been investigating the Trump camp's possible involvement in Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
The Washington Post said on Monday that the special counsel raised the issue of interviewing Trump at a meeting in late December with the president's lawyers.
It reported that Mueller's team could interview Trump soon, possibly within the next several weeks, on a limited portion of questions.
The newspaper said that Trump's attorneys are reluctant to let the president sit for open-ended, face-to-face questioning without clear parameters.
It added that the attorneys have discussed whether the president could provide written answers to some of the questions from Mueller's team.
Trump's attorneys and Mueller's office are expected to continue with their interview negotiations.
Mueller's probe has led to Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US in 2016.
Russia has denied any meddling in the US election to help Trump win and the president insists there was no collusion.
The first inter-Korean talks in over 2 years started on Tuesday at the truce village of Panmunjom. North Korea's participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics is likely to be on the agenda.
The dialogue began at 10 AM.
It is the first talks between the countries since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office last May.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon leads the South Korea delegation. The North is led by Ri Son Gwon, the head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.
The talks will likely focus on North Korea's possible participation in next month's PyeongChang Olympics.
South Korea also wants to use the meeting to improve relations between the countries.
Seoul hopes to ease military tensions, and discuss the reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
Pyongyang may call for the South to halt its annual joint military drills with the US.
The Japan Coast Guard says a capsized wooden boat was found off the coast of Kyotango, Kyoto Prefecture.
Coast guard officials say local police were notified on Sunday morning.
A 10-meter-long and 3-meter-wide vessel was found near a rocky part of the sea about 700 meters from shore. Its stern was under water.
Coast guard officials pounded the hull to check for survivors but there was no response. So far no crew members have been found.
A piece of wood with what appears to be Korean writing had washed ashore nearby.
The coast guard suspects the boat is from the Korean Peninsula. It says the boat is similar to a number of boats that have been found recently washed ashore or drifting near Japan.
The coast guard plans to inspect the inside of the boat with police.
North and South Korea have named their delegates for the upcoming talks involving 5 ministerial and vice-ministerial-level officials from each side.
The 2 sides confirmed the lists of their delegations on Sunday, 2 days before the meeting that will take place in the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the 2 Koreas.
The officials will discuss the North's possible participation in next month's PyeongChang Olympics, among other topics.
South Korea's delegation will be headed by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.
The North's delegation will be led by Ri Son Gwon, the head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea. The committee is the liaison body with the South.
Each delegation will have 2 vice-ministerial-level officials.
These will be the first high-level talks between the 2 countries since December 2015. It will also be the first dialogue since South Korean President Moon Jae-in launched his administration last May.
Analysts say the Moon administration is trying to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula through the talks.
They add that it wants to create an environment for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington that will lead to the North's abandonment of its nuclear programs.
A highly critical book on US President Donald Trump has been released despite the president's attempt to stop its publication.
Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," went on sale on Friday. It instantly sold out in some bookstores in Washington.
The columnist says his book tells the inside story of the Trump administration with one of his sources being the president's former top aide, Steve Bannon, who denounces the president's family.
Trump has called the book "phony" and "full of lies". He tried to stop its publication through his lawyer.
Wolff told NBC News that 100 percent of the people around Trump question his intelligence and fitness for office and compare him to a child.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN that he has never questioned Trump's "mental fitness." Earlier this year, a media report said he called Trump "a moron".
On Twitter, Trump referred to Bannon as "the leaker known as Sloppy Steve Bannon."
Former Japanese pro baseball star Senichi Hoshino died on Thursday. He was 70. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Despite dominating as a pitcher Hoshino found his true calling as a manager.
As a pitcher he joined the Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Central League in 1969 and notched 146 wins in 14 years. He won the Sawamura Award for the best pitcher of the season.
In 1987, Hoshino became the Dragons manager, taking them to 2 league pennants.
In 2002, Hoshino was called to manage the struggling Hanshin Tigers. The following year, he led the team to its first league championship in 18 years.
He later managed the Japanese national baseball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Hoshino became the manager of the Rakuten Eagles in 2011. The team is based in the northeastern city of Sendai, which was hit hard by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.
In 2013, he took the team to its first league pennant and Japan Series championship.
A book about the administration of US President Donald Trump has become the focus of a political firestorm. Trump has harshly criticized the book, and his lawyer said he would try to stop its publication.
The book by a columnist is set to be released soon. The author says it is based on interviews with Trump and senior administration officials.
Excerpts released ahead of publication say the president's former top aide, Steve Bannon, denounced Trump's eldest son and others.
They also say Trump's main goal in the 2016 presidential election was not winning, but becoming the most famous person in the world.
The president is reportedly furious about the book. He tweeted on Thursday that he authorized no access to the White House for the author and that the book is full of lies.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders criticized the book as a complete fantasy and full of mistakes.
Trump's lawyers also urged Bannon to stop disclosing confidential information.
The White House has announced that no personal devices, including cellphones, will be allowed for use by visitors or staffers in the building housing the presidential office from next week. The move is apparently aimed at preventing information leaks.
Councilors of the Japan Sumo Association have demoted stablemaster Takanohana from the post of director over his handling of an assault scandal.
In October, Yokozuna Grand Champion Harumafuji hit and injured a fellow Mongolian wrestler, Takanoiwa, during a night out drinking. Harumafuji retired from sumo the following month.
The board of directors of the association last week unanimously decided to recommend that Takanoiwa's stablemaster, Takanohana, be removed from his post as a director of the association.
The board cited Takanohana's repeated failure to cooperate with its internal investigation, despite reporting the assault to police.
An extraordinary meeting of the association's key decision-making body on Thursday unanimously agreed to remove Takanohana as director and demote him.
The chair of the council, former senior vice education minister Yasuko Ikenobo, told reporters that Takanohana had failed to report on the assault to the association and refused to cooperate with its internal investigation.
She said Takanohana's actions are unacceptable as a director of a public-interest corporation and that he neglected his duties.
It was the first time that a director of the association has been removed.
Ikenobo said Takanohana reportedly expressed his acceptance of the dismissal.
North Korea says it will reopen a communication link with South Korea to discuss sending a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and other issues. The North cut off the hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom on the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas in 2016.
Ri Son Gwon, the head of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, made the announcement on state-run TV on Wednesday afternoon.
He said North Korea will reopen the communication line at 3:30 PM on Wednesday. The hotline has been inoperative since February 2016.
Ri said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un highly appreciated South Korean President Moon Jae-in's positive response to Kim's overture in his New Year's address for better inter-Korean relations. Ri said Kim also took Moon's calls for an early resumption for inter-Korean dialogue in a positive manner.
Ri said Pyongyang wants to discuss with Seoul working-level issues over their country's potential dispatch of a delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics. He also expressed his sincere wishes for success of the games.
Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is going to receive knighthood by the British government.
The government announced the New Year's Honors List on Friday. At age 77, Starr still continues with his musical career.
Fans are posting "Sir Ringo Starr" on Twitter, as knighthood will allow him to be addressed by the honorary title.
Starr will join the ranks of his fellow former Beatle Paul McCartney who was knighted in 1997.
The 4 members of the Beatles were awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965.
Starr told Britain's BBC public broadcaster that it is an honor and a pleasure to be acknowledged for his music and charity work.
The awarding ceremony will take place early next year at Buckingham Palace.